Estate Planning Considerations for Singles and Massachusetts Law

Single persons without heirs have unique considerations when planning for the future. Unlike most married couples with spouses and/or children, they need to involve friends or other relatives in their financial, medical emergency and end of life arrangements.

Documents used to convey what should take place if a single person becomes incapacitated can include a durable power of attorney, springing power of attorney, a health care proxy advance care directive and an authorization under HIPAA. Employing one or more of these documents will authorize your agent to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf in the event you are not able.

The springing power of attorney only comes into effect upon an event such incapacitation or disability. In contrast, a durable power of attorney applies when it is signed.

Despite being childless, a single person may have dependents such as parents or siblings. Perhaps, there are valued charities and friends he or she wishes to endow. Setting up a revocable living trust or making a will is the way to make sure that his or her wishes take precedence.

If there is no Will, trust, or beneficiary designations in place, the estate of a single person may become subject to Massachusetts probate process and is disbursed under Massachusetts law.

For those without family, choosing the right person to carry out your wishes might be difficult.  In this case, working with an estate planner is beneficial.

What If I Die Without A Will?

When discussing estate planning, I often hear the remark “I don’t need a Will”.  Many think that they don’t have a large enough estate, or that everything will automatically pass to their spouse.  That is not always the case.

If you die without a Will, Massachusetts law will control how your property will be distributed.  After payment of debts, expenses, administration and funeral costs, your property will be distributed as follows:

  • If the deceased leaves kindred but no children, the surviving spouse will get the first $200,000, plus one-half of the remaining personal and real property.  The balance will go to the kindred.
  • If the deceased leaves children, the surviving spouse will get one-half of the real and personal property and the balance will go to the children.
  • If the deceased leaves children but no spouse, all real and personal property will be distributed to the children.
  • If the deceased dies with no children or kindred, the surviving spouse will take all real and personal property.
  • If the deceased leaves no spouse, children or kindred, the estate passes to the Commonwealth.

Unless you have a valid Will at death, the State will determine exactly who receives your property.  Having a Will ensures that you, not the State, choose who receives your property.

Do I Need A Will?

I get this question quite often. Family members and friends falsely assume that estate planning is for the “rich”. They think that they are too young to need a Will or they don’t have enough money to worry about planning. I explain that sometimes the headaches associated with a lack of planning usually have nothing to do with the size of a persons estate. Unfortunately, it takes the death of a loved one, an extended stay in a nursing home or a custody battle over a child to realize how crucial planning can be for young and old, rich and not so rich.

BASIC ESTATE PLANNING WILL GUIDE OTHERS IN MAKING DECISIONS

Even the simplest of estates require basic documents to ensure your affairs are in order. These documents will allow the persons you nominate to manage your estate if you are unable to make decisions for yourself and an executor to distribute your estate according to your wishes after death. If you die without a Will (also referred to as intestate), your estate will be distributed according to the laws of your domicile.

The following documents are a good starting point to give you the peace of mind that your wishes will be respected should anything happen:

  • Will - A Will is a legal document that gives instructions to be followed after your death. Your Will allows you to name your beneficiaries, a guardian for your children, as well as an executor to manage and distribute your estate after death. Note: Not all assets will be distributed according to the provisions in your Will. Certain assets that have their own beneficiary designation will pass outside of the probate process according to beneficiaries you have chosen. Some examples of assets that will bypass the probate process are living trusts, life insurance, assets held as joint tenants with right of survivorship, payable-on-death accounts, and retirement accounts.
  • Durable Power of Attorney – A durable power of attorney allows you to name someone to manage your financial affairs should you become incapacitated and not be able to make decisions on your behalf.
  • Health Care Proxy – A health care proxy is similar to a durable power of attorney. Your health care proxy allows you to name someone to make health care decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated and cannot make decisions for yourself.

Failing to plan could force others, including the Probate Court, to make these crucial and often emotional decisions for you. Others may or may not, for whatever reason, make the same decisions you would have. Taking these basic steps will give you the peace of mind that your wishes will be respected. Please contact us if you would like more information or would like to schedule a consultation.